Teachers' Observations of Students' Reading Comprehension

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

James Barton

Document Type


Second Advisor

Jennifer Cook

Third Advisor

Diane Kern


Feinstein School of Education and Human Development

Department (Manual Entry)

Education Doctoral Program


Teachers' observations of student performance in reading are abundant and insightful but often remain internal and unarticulated. As a result, such observations are an underutilized and undervalued source of data. Given the gaps in knowledge about students’ reading comprehension that exist in formal assessments, the frequent calls for teachers’ observational data to fill these gaps, and the paucity of research on teachers as assessment instruments, this study sought to learn more about the knowledge teachers gain about students’ comprehension through embedded observation.

This research was framed by a transactional conception of reading and informed by cognitive and sociocultural studies of reading comprehension. It was guided by two questions: 1). What do teachers notice about students’ reading comprehension? 2). How do they articulate what they observe and interpret?

Data were derived from a three-phased set of semi-structured interviews conducted with ten study participants, teachers employing a transactional strategic instructional approach in grades two through five. Quantitative and qualitative analyses resulted in a comprehension framework that organizes teachers’ observations into three categories: stance, technique, and interpretation. The three categories are comprised of nine observed states and twenty-seven ranges with definitions and exemplars derived from the data. Teachers’ observational methods are characterized as a real-time data processing system in which dimensions of comprehension are articulated as moments, patterns, and trends.

Implications for teachers, professional development and public policy are discussed. First, a comprehension framework, drawn from participants’ observations of student comprehension, is offered to teachers as a tool for reflecting on and organizing knowledge of students gained through embedded observation. Multiple forms of collaborative inquiry are suggested to support teachers’ interpretation and use of observational data to inform instruction. Finally, active support for teachers’ local and continuous knowledge construction and a greater appreciation of the complexity and value of the data teachers generate through embedded observation are considered essential to the implementation of data-based instruction.